Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Recommendations

If you are planning a traditional Thanksgiving feast, wine pairing can be a daunting challenge.  Why such a daunting task?  Simple – Thanksgiving meals are typically overflowing with a tremendous variety of flavors including sweet, savory, buttery, acidity, a variety of vegetables, turkey, and ham – all complicated by varying preparations.

So where to start?  You could focus your pairing on the meat, the sauces, or the sides.  This remains challenging with the variety of flavors on the table.  One approach to Thanksgiving wine pairing is the tried and true traditional pairings.  These consist of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines.

Any of these traditional thanksgiving wines will provide solid results.  But what if you want to be more adventuresome?  Another fun approach would be to have multiple wines.  Yeah!  More wine!  Using this method, you might consider a variety of wines to pair with different parts of the meal.

Here are a few recommendations to consider for the traditional trio and the less trodden path:

  • Although you may not be a fan of oaky Chardonnay, the buttery components of the meal form a nice balance with a nicely oaked Chardonnay.  Look for one with healthy acidity.
  • Think Riesling to complement the sweet components of the meal.
  • If you decide on the tried and true Pinot Noir, focus on fruity bottle with some spice.
  • Syrah – the spiciness, acidity, and fruit will work with most of the meal with the exception of the sweet dishes.
  • Pinot Gris offers nice acidity to balance the richness of many dishes.  The pronounced fruit and heftier body distinguish it from Pinot Grigio.  Stay away from the Pinot Grigio – it will not stand up the most of the meal.  The same is true of most Sauvignon Blancs – they will fall flat with their relatively light body.
  • If you decide to go with Champagne or sparkling wine – don’t go cheap – you need a wine with some healthy yeast, body, and nutty flavors to complement the turkey and the vegetables.
  • The highly versatile Viognier is a great choice to pair with a variety of vegetables.
  • If you have a heavy fried component such as a fried turkey – avoid the reds.  The combination could feel like a lead balloon.
  • If you smoke your turkey or ham, an oaky Chardonnay is a good complementary choice, but a smoky red with a medium body such as a Merlot, Grenache, Syrah or Shiraz (nice fruit contrast) would complement the smoked meat while offering a pleasant fruit contrast.
  • If your menu includes a spicy glazed ham, match it with a moderate alcohol Zinfandel.  The normal high alcohol levels of Zins can not only lead to more expressive family conversation, but can intensify the spice in an undesirable way.  A Rioja, Tempranillo, heavier bodied Pinot Noir or a Syrah would also be a good choice.
  • Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie – try a Muscat, lightly effervescent Moscato , White Port, or Tawny Port.
  • For a chocolate based dessert, a Ruby Port or a Late Bottled Vintage Port will make you smile.

Live on the edge.  Go with the non-traditional approach, and pair your feast with several wines.  Experiment a little and let your holiday guests enjoy a diversion from the traditional one wine fits all formula.  Always remember balance is the key – we don’t want the wine to upstage the feast, nor do we want it to be a footnote.

At the request of my children, we will be drawing outside the lines for Thanksgiving. Our meal will be no less diverse, but will be entirely drawn from the rich culinary tradition of Italy.  Be sure I will share all the fun details.

Happy Thanksgiving.


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